Now, 12 years since launching its recycling initiative, it is still the UK’s only flat glass manufacturer to use cullet in its product range, as well as the only one to operate a comprehensive cullet collection service.
Saint-Gobain Glass not only manufactures all its glass from 30% returned off-cuts but is actively seeking new ways to recover waste material for re-use, even including post-consumer glass from the windows replaced by its installers.
The company operates a highly-organised collection scheme which last year saw it buy back over 40,000 tonnes of material for reprocessing – adding to a total 300,000 tonnes returned since the initiative began in 2001 (Put another way, that is more than a third of what the entire UK puts into Bottle Banks in a whole year). Each tonne of cullet recovered actually saves rather more than its own weight in raw materials as well as a third of its weight in CO2 emissions – nearly half if you include the CO2 generated by manufacturing the soda ash that goes into new glass.
The scheme also makes road transport considerably more efficient by using ‘back-fill’ for collection from processors instead of delivery trucks returning empty every time. Cullet recycling even extends furnace life by up to 25% and it goes without saying that it significantly reduces the need for landfill.
As well as making good economic sense for Saint-Gobain Glass and its customers, that underlying green message may have very tangible benefits all the way down the supply chain, as Gary Barber, production manager in charge of the Cullet Scheme, explained:
“We have already begun to buy back some glass that installers have taken out when replacing windows and we are keen to investigate expanding the recycling of post consumer glass.
“Last year, when Glassolutions (also part of Saint-Gobain Group) refitted the Lloyd’s Building in the City of London, the owner had specifically asked that the winning contractor must recycle all the old glass. So the fact that we were able to do that was a major part of our winning the contract.”
It is certainly not lost on many Saint-Gobain processors – and in turn their own installer customers – that the manufacturer’s green credentials can translate very well into their marketing message direct to the end user. It has already been seen in the window frame side of the industry that commercial customers, especially Local Authorities and Housing Associations, favour contractors that can offer recycling, initially in taking back post-consumer PVCu frames and more recently in also offering an actual recycled frame.
To the green-aware consumer, glass may not seen to be as relevant to saving the world as PVCu, partly because they see the raw material silica as being almost infinitely more plentiful than oil, and they may not realise the significant energy consumption – and CO2 generation – involved in processing that silica into glass. Unlike PVCu however, the glass recycling lobby does not face the psychological hurdle of the downmarket ‘regrind’ legacy of the three previous decades that still haunts the widespread perception of the recycled product. After all, any regular Bottle-Banker already sees glass recycling as a part of the way of life.
Saint-Gobain Glass’ Cullet Scheme has been created to be as user-friendly as possible and some 50 processors now sell their waste back this way. It is free to join, all necessary equipment is free and processors are given full instructions and any technical assistance needed. They are asked simply to replace their standard steel bins with framed polypropylene bags provided. When full, the bags are taken away and the customer is paid monthly. The company will accept any flat glass – from any manufacturer – except wired, laminated or fire-resistant.
It is not surprising that Saint-Gobain Glass in the UK has taken the lead in this field, given the parent company’s existing green credentials. It is perhaps more surprising that other UK flat glass manufacturers have not yet followed its lead but, as Gary Barber explained, it may not be such a simple step for the less committed to take:
“It is not as easy as just melting it down. Even though we only take conventional flat glass, it still has to go through a refining process and this might have put other manufacturers of doing it themselves. Even in the whole of Europe, we may not be absolutely the only ones doing it but there are certainly very few others.”
Globally, Saint-Gobain Glass takes great pride in its environmental responsibility. It was the first glass manufacturer to have its products subjected to a full Life Cycle Assessment as verified by an Environmental Product Declaration and in the UK it was placed in the Sunday Times Best Green Companies listing for two successive years.
Environmentally, the effect of cullet recycling is complemented by the energy-saving benefits of products such as SGG PLANITHERM low-emissivity glass in actual use, considering that it can offset its CO2 from manufacture in less than eleven months of use compared with conventional double glazed units. Saint-Gobain Glass can not only show its own allegiance to the environment but also support its supply chain partners in showing consumers their own commitment to the cause.